Investigation underway after Afghan boy is killed on firing range
By ALEX PENA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 31, 2013
COMBAT OUTPOST SOLTAN KHEYL, Afghanistan — U.S. and Czech medics rushed to the helicopter-landing zone at Combat Outpost Soltan Kheyl carrying a stretcher with the limp body of a badly wounded Afghan boy.
The boy, a member of the nomadic Kuchi tribe, was fading fast. A Black Hawk carrying a medical evacuation team descended on the outpost in Wardak province.
The victim, who was estimated to be 8 years old, had been collecting empty bullet casings on the firing range July 18 when, according to Maj. Robert Howard, he was struck in the back of the head by a ricochet bullet.
The boy died while being evacuated to a larger base in the area, said Howard, who commands an adviser team at the outpost.
Soldiers from the Czech Republic, who share the base with U.S. forces, run the firing range and use it to train Afghan National Army troops. The range, located just outside the wire, is open. Without markers and barriers, it’s common for both adults and children to wander onto the range as they scavenge for empty bullet shells and metals, hoping to sell the brass and other materials at the local bazaar.
The incident is under investigation by both the Czechs and a U.S. team based in Regional Command East. To date, there has been no information on who fired the fatal shot or the weapon used.
The boy’s body was returned to the family, Howard said. They received compensation of $1,000, rice and cooking oil.
He was unsure why the body had been returned and buried without extracting the bullet, which could have helped determine how the shooting occurred.
While tragic, the incident is not unique.
A report issued Wednesday by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said that 1,319 civilians had been killed so far this year, an increase of 23 percent from the same period last year. While most of those deaths were attributed to insurgents, in particular from improvised explosive devices, 43 deaths and 102 injuries were attributed to unexploded ordnance, including a growing number on or near firing ranges abandoned by departing troops.
In a prepared response to the U.N. report, the International Security Assistance Force stated: “In our untiring commitment to reduce civilian casualties, we have identified a number of areas where we can improve our processes and systems, as well as work more closely with UNAMA, the UN Mine Action Service, and the Mine Action Coordination Centre Afghanistan to reach our common goal of protecting civilians from the dangers of war.”
U.S. and Czech medics rush a young Afghan boy to a black hawk helicopter for a medevac after he was hit in the back of the head by a stray bullet on a firing range at Combat Outpost Soltan Kheyl. He was said to have been collecting empty bullet cases, which is common for both children and adults so they can sell the brass.
ALEX PENA/STARS AND STRIPES